Workplace of the future is here, and it belongs to the agile and adaptive


A recent article on the Business Insider website contained some great career advice, yet the piece also contains a pair of flawed inherent premises, both of which are hinted at in the headline: “7 skills all young people need to survive the future of the workplace.”

Let me be clear: The advice presented by Charlotte Edmond of the World Economic Forum is spot on. However, I would argue that 1) the future of the workplace actually is now, and 2) therefore the skills Edmond outlines also are vital to the success of anyone in today’s workplace — and that includes not-so-young people.

Thus it’s absolutely imperative for non-Millennial workers — those folks who roughly are in their late 30s and older — to understand not only how rapidly things already have changed, but that they need to jettison many of their own assumptions, approaches, and learning styles in order to remain relevant in the workplace. In a world where automation, artificial intelligence (AI) and robots already are displacing workers of all collars, self-obsolescence is fatal — and it’s happening faster than you could possibly imagine.

The seven skills cited in Edmond’s article come from Dr. Tony Wagner, co-director of Harvard’s Change Leadership Group, in his book, “The Global Achievement Gap.” They are:

  1. Critical thinking and problem-solving
  2. Collaboration across networks and leading by influence
  3. Agility and adaptability
  4. Initiative and entrepreneurialism
  5. Effective oral and written communication
  6. Accessing and analyzing information
  7. Curiosity and imagination

Some of these skills, in my opinion, will be harder for older workers to pick up than others, in large part because our teach-to-the-test education system and risk-averse, failure-punishing corporate cultures generally do a poor job of encouraging critical thinking, creative problem-solving, genuine teamwork and ego-less collaboration.

Yes, there are exceptions, but most enterprise workers stay inside their assigned boxes because stepping outside of them may incur professional risk and their boss’s wrath. (No one wants to be noticed for the wrong things!) And yes, initiative frequently can be rewarded, but too often it’s of the eat-your-lunch-at-your-desk, stay-until-after-the-boss-leaves type, otherwise known as grandstanding.

I know I’m painting with a broad brush here, but it’s my brush! If I had to distill all of the above, I’d say the key to succeeding in the workplace of the present and future is to work smarter and more insightfully. Working hard always has its place — I am by no means discounting it — but I’d argue that “working hard” is incremental, whereas “working smart and insightful” is transformative. Harder and smarter aren’t mutually exclusive, of course, and I know successful start-up founders typically put in crazy hours. But in large part that’s because they’re working with shoestring budgets and a barebones staff, plus they have a lot at stake. (Not to mention start-up founders tend to be highly driven people. Nothing wrong with that!)

If I had to choose just one item from the list above as the key to thriving in the workplace of the now/future, it would be No. 3 — agility and adaptability. Of these Edmond writes, “The ability to adapt and pick up new skills quickly is vital for success: workers must be able to use a range of tools to solve a problem. This is also known as ‘learnability,’ a sought-after skills among job candidates.”

Or as Bob Dylan (Google him, Millennials!) once sang, “He not busy being born is busy dying.”


  1. Samantha Richardson says:

    I would argue it’s the older workers (myself included and I’m 45!) are the ones that need educating. Many people I work with/for are dangerously out of step on every level; technology, philosophy, culture, people management…


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  2. […] What, exactly, is a job? And what’s work? The fundamental definitions of both may be changing as companies evolve to keep pace with the shift to digital. The idea of one person performing one job, retiring after four decades (and getting a gold watch) is largely extinct. That model just isn’t flexible enough to suit today’s business environment. […]

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